The Family of God
Family is a big world - at least it always used to be. And it certainly was in the Bible, where family included a wide network of distant as well as more immediate relatives. It linked up all those connected not just by DNA but also by bonds of friendship, service, financial dependence and mutual concerns over territory as well as a shared faith. It's only in more recent times that 'family' has been limited to two parents and their biological children in a 'family' home. Times are changing and families come in many shapes and sizes drawn together by commitments that do not necessarily just depend on promises made in public at a civil or religious ceremony. The following reflective story is about some families found in the New Testament and wonders what they might teach us today.
Ideally, you need to collect together some figures to use for the different scenes of 'family life' suggested in the following reflective story and illustrated in the PowerPoint presentation, which of course you could just use in all-age worship or with a large group. With a smaller group, using real 3D figures on a felt base cloth in the Godly Play style works best - however, if using this method remember to reveal the story slowly from your right to your left so that the group 'read it' left to right, and do not rush the story or look up at the group so that the story rather than you remain the focus.
Jesus and the family of Mary, Martha and Lazarus at Bethany
There was once a family of two sisters and one brother, who made space for another friend to join them. He used to feel safe with them, in a family far his home. It was Mary and Martha, with their brother Lazarus, in their home at Bethany, who welcomed Jesus. This was one of Jesus' experiences of family.
Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus at Bethlehem
A child, born to an unmarried mother, watched over by a stepfather who later, according to the story, was surrounded by a number of stepbrothers and stepsisters. This was another of Jesus' experiences of family.
The boy Jesus surrounded by teachers in the temple and his mother Mary
When Jesus was 12 years old, he went to the temple, where he was surrounded by teachers and religious experts, asking questions and listening to the answers. He had come to the temple with his family and other village friends, but had left them to find a new family of people eager to understand the ways of God. When he was questioned by his distraught mother, all he could say was: 'Didn’t you know I would be in my Father's house?' Jesus' understanding of the family he belonged to was already bigger than his home and the carpenter's shop in Nazareth.
Jesus surrounded by many people at Capernaum
When Jesus grew up and began his work, his Nazareth family struggled to make sense of what was happening. They once tried to drag him away from the crowds that had surrounded him in a house. Perhaps they thought he was being disloyal to them - even bringing shame upon them. But Jesus had to remind them that his idea of family was much bigger. He said: 'Who is my mother and who are my brothers?' Then he looked at the people sitting around him and said: 'Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who obeys God is my brother or sister or mother.' This is Jesus with his family of faith - a community that gathered around him.
Jesus at the Last Supper table with his friends
And what about the family gathered around a table in an upstairs room in the backstreets of Jerusalem? It is a family, who Jesus called friends, because he had told them everything that his Father had told him - a family made up of trades people and accountants, wealthy women and some of a more dubious reputation, of mothers with their children, the sick, the lonely and the vulnerable. This too was family.
Jesus on the cross with Mary and John
And on the cross, Jesus redefined family yet again. Talking to his youngest disciple, he says about Mary: 'she is now your mother.' To Mary, he says: 'this man is now your son.'
A gathering of people who are a household of faith
After the resurrection, the first followers of 'the way' became a startling new inclusive form of family, open to widows and strangers, men and women, those of different ethnic backgrounds, those with status and influence, and those from among the poorest of the poor. No wonder the authorities were disturbed and suspicious about the way in which this new family was growing; at how family households of faith were coming together to worship God in gatherings that included a whole range of different ages and backgrounds, and young and old were rubbing shoulders together alongside the story of Jesus, which was being shared in words and symbols.
Pause and look back through all these different New Testament families
Family is a big word. Families come in many shapes and sizes. Wherever there are people of any age committed to each other in love, there is family. And the faith that grows in this sort of family is the sort of kingdom faith that Jesus talked about.
- Which of these stories about family do you like the best?
- Which of these stories about family is the most important?
- Where are you in these stories?
- Could we leave out any of these stories about family and still have all the stories we need?
- What is our understanding of family in the church today?
- What has that got to do with the family of God?
If possible, finish with a time of a free creative response in which your group can express their own feelings about what they have heard in some craft activities.